By Caroline GotlerDecember 19, 2008
First Lt. Philip Sakala became a third generation paratrooper Dec. 13 when his grandfather, retired Col. Jack Ancker pinned his Airborne wings on during a graduation ceremony at Eubanks Field on Fort Benning, Ga.
"It's kind of like welcoming him to another family," Ancker said. "I feel a kinship to all these youngsters."
Ancker, who served with four Airborne units, was the graduation's guest speaker. He shared his experiences with audience members and graduates, and said he was impressed by the high quality of Airborne school instructors.
"I was really interested in watching the jumps yesterday ... and boy, was I impressed with the black hats," he said. "There was an immense attention to detail."
Ancker offered encouragement to the new paratroopers, and infused his comments with humor.
"Have you ever considered that now you've jumped out of an airplane - do you really believe that real sensible people do that kind of stuff'" he joked. "You can do a lot more than you think you can, and you've made a great step in that direction."
Retired Col. Mary Ancker, Sakala's mother and a retired paratrooper, was also on hand to observe her son's graduation.
"Thirty-two years ago, I was out here, and I never would have dreamed I'd have a son or daughter out here too," she said. "It was a real proud moment, and it's even more exciting that my dad can be here, too."
Sakala, who was a track and field athlete in the Army World Class Athlete Program before attending Airborne school, said he was honored to carry on his family's Airborne legacy.
"I'm a fourth generation Army officer and a third generation paratrooper," he said. "It's a pretty big honor and a big deal in my family."
Sharing the graduation with his mother and grandfather made the graduation especially meaningful, Sakala said.
"Having my grandfather speak was the icing on the cake," he said. "It was awesome having both of them there, especially since my mother didn't get to have my grandfather present at her Airborne graduation."
Sakala's next assignment is at Fort Bragg, N.C., with the 82nd Airborne Division.
"I'm just going to go on doing what my family's been doing for the past four generations," he said. "I'm pretty proud of that."